Removal of 48000 Delhi Slums – SC makes Way for a Slum-Free India

Aditya Pratap is a lawyer practicing in the Bombay High Court. He can be reached at aditya@adityapratap.com

Introduction

A Supreme Court Bench, headed by Justice Arun Mishra, including Justices B R Gavai and Krishna Murari passed an order, stating the removal of 48,000 slum dwellings around 140 km of railways tracks in Delhi. The removal has to be completed within three months. The apex court also directed that no court should grant a stay in the matter.

The order goes back to the MC Mehta case, related to pollution in and around Delhi, making it one of the most polluted places to live in the world. Since 1985, the top court has been passing directions in the case from time to time. “The encroachments which are there in the safety zones should be removed within a period of three months and no interference, political or otherwise, should be there and no court shall grant any stay with respect to the removal of encroachments in the area in question”, the Supreme Court ordered.

This decision was taken after the Indian Railways told the SC that the that there was ‘political intervention’ which came in the way of the removal of encroachments.

Indian Legislation and Judicature on the cause

The order was passed by the Apex Court with respect to the construction of Smog Towers, which are the need of the hour to control the pollution levels in the region. The order talks about the “Undertakings furnished by the Secretary of Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Govt. of India as well as the Principal Secretary of the Department of Environment and Forests, Govt. Of NCT of Delhi, that they will be completing the work relating to Smog Towers within 10 months and the requisite money has been transferred to the Tata Consultancy, and it is stated in the affidavit filed on behalf of the Mo.E.F. that a sum of Rs. 52 Lakhs has also been transferred to Clean air- CARE LLC, which is the licensee of the University of Minnesota”.

Similar is the stand of Govt. of NCT of Delhi. Undertakings are taken on record. Any violation on any ground whatsoever shall be treated as contempt of the order passed by this Court as there is already a huge unjustified delay in making the compliance of the order.

However, since steps are being taken and undertakings have been furnished, we have not proceeded for violation of the order passed by this Court, only on the basis of the action taken and undertakings furnished to complete the project. Let the project be positively completed within 10 months.

Report No. 111 – Piling Up of The Waste/Garbage by The Sides of Railway Tracks in Delhi

Report No. 111 has been submitted by EPCA [Environment Pollution (Prevention & Control) Authority for the National Capital Region], in which it has pointed out the following:-

“In this situation, EPCA would submit for the consideration of the Hon’ble Supreme Court the following:- Indian Railways is not in compliance with the Municipal Solid Waste Management Rules 2016, which require the bulk waste generator to operationalise a plan for all waste generated. The Hon’ble Supreme Court, may direct Indian Railways to present a time-bound plan for the following:-

1. Inventory of all solid waste generated in the Northern Region, starting with Delhi and its vicinity. This inventory must include the waste generated in trains and in the stations.

2. Inventory of all lands belonging to it (along the tracks and other land pieces) where there are waste dumps/discard of plastic and other waste and its plans to handle this on a long-terms basis.

3. Plan for management of solid waste as a bulk generator, to ensure compliance with the MSW Rules, 2016. These plans must be comprehensive so that all solid waste generated is segregated at source; bio-degradable waste is composted and the rest is given to authorised waste recyclers/pickers. The plan must be time-bound and with clear monitoring provisions.”

The Emphasis of Railway Ministry on Removal of Encroachments.

An affidavit was filed by Sh. Ashwani Kumar Yadav, Additional Divisional Railway Manager at DRM Office, Delhi Division, Northern Railway, Ministry of Railways. The affidavit voiced that Northern Railway is working as per the court order and working, along with South Delhi Municipal Corporation, to combat the problem of dumping of plastic bags, piling of waste and garbage in the Railway premises and along with Railway lines. However, the leading issue in this cause is the presence of jhuggis in Delhi along with 140 km route length of track in the region of NCT of Delhi where the railway tracks take off in different directions and also include a ring connecting the take-off of all these routes.

While maintaining the position of Audi alteram partem, the Hon’ble court decided to let the plan be executed along with the removal of plastic waste within three months and directed that 70% of the requisite amount shall be borne by the Railways and 30% by the State Government. The court further called for a meeting between Railways, Govt. of NCT of Delhi, and concerned Municipal Corporations as well as Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Trust (DUISB), in the coming week. The Apex Court ordered SDMC, Railways, and agencies available with the Government to provide ‘manpower’ without any cost while ensuring that the contractors do not put garbage on the sides of the railway tracks.

Judgement-

The bench stated that no interim order granted with respect to encroachments, which have been made along with railway tracks, shall be effective. The learned senior counsel appearing for SDMC, Mr. Wasim A. Qadri, undertook the responsibility to remove all the waste/garbage at the specified places where the Railways put the garbage. The bench ordered the railways to prepare a long term scheme so that no piling of the wastes takes place along with the sides of the railways’ tracks.

The bench provided a period of one month for action to be taken on the piled up waste as it was evident from the picture painted in the Report of the EPCA as well as in the reply filed by the Railways that nothing had been done so far.

Report nos. 81 & 82 submitted by EPCA

The bench considered the letter dated 26 August 2020 and allowed the prayer of time of four weeks as was prayed by EPCA.

An undertaking was asked to be furnished by the bench, within four weeks, that will state that they will abide by the ultimate decision taken in the matter at the appropriate level.

Conclusion

The judgement of the Apex Court is decisive and will set a powerful precedent for making India a slum-free nation. India’s mega-cities have gained notoriety for their infamous sprawling slum clusters, the sight of which greets every foreign dignitary landing in Mumbai or Delhi. Hitherto, the public narrative has highlighted the plight of slum-dwellers while the disastrous impact of slums on town planning in India has been relatively under-emphasised.

By ordering the eviction of 48,000 slum tenements along Delhi railway tracks, the Supreme Court has implicitly embarked on a new path independent of its line of thought in the Olga Tellis case, where large-scale evictions of pavement dwellers in Mumbai were halted for allegedly running afoul of Article 21 of the Constitution of India. While the noble intentions of the Supreme Court were beyond doubt in the Olga Tellis case, it failed to appreciate the contagious manner in which slums spread and the decisive executive action necessary to stop them.

About the Author – Aditya Pratap

Aditya Pratap is a lawyer practising in Mumbai. He argues cases in the Bombay High Court, Sessions and Magistrate Courts, along with appearances before RERA, NCLT and the Family Court. For further information one may visit his website adityapratap.in or view his YouTube Channel to see his interviews. Questions can be emailed to him at aditya@adityapratap.com.

Cases argued by Aditya Pratap can be viewed here.

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